'Spirit of Wood', an exhibition of Malay woodcarving from Kelantan, Terengganu and Pattani that was also a tribute to craftsmen, the rich heritage of Malaysian culture and its forests, recently 'revisited' Kuala Lumpur.
First HELD in Kuala Lumpur in 2000, the exhibition 'travels' around the world, having gone to Singapore and then abroad to England in 2003 where it drew record viewing figures at the Brunei Gallery in London. 'Spirit of Wood' 2005 was held at the National Museum on 16 May-17 July and was opened by His Royal Highness, the Ruler of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.
The exhibition was built around the work by and collections of two renowned local woodcarvers namely, the late Nik Rashiddin Nik Hussein and his friend and protege, Norhaiza Noordin. It was also augmented by several superb carvings from the museum's own collections. Nik Rashiddin Nik Hussein was an expert in the history and traditions of woodcarving and kris-making. He collected historic weapons such as kris and antique carvings because they functioned as his 'textbooks', with each piece contributing to his knowledge and skills in Malay woodcarving. His work of art had been presented to many visiting heads of state such as former US President, Ronald Reagan. Norhaiza Noordin apprenticed himself to master woodcarvers Wan Su Othman, Tengku Ibrahim Tengku Wook and Latif Long. As he matured, he devoted his life to learning about the finer details of motif and philosophy within the art of woodcarving alongside Nik Rashiddin. His work can be seen in many prestigious buildings, most notably, the carvings for the Istana Melawati (Melawati Palace) in Putrajaya, the palace for His Majesty the King of Malaysia and his family.
'Spirit of Wood' portrayed a journey to discover the origins and history of the traditional Malay woodcarving. Demonstrating how the carving motifs evolved from time to time, the exhibition also highlighted the cultural and religious influences from Southeast Asia that added dynamics to the Malay woodcarving. The exhibition did not only focused on the materials and carving techniques - the wood and the tools used, but also the background to the designs, motifs and shapes used within the carvings.
Altogether, the exhibition comprised about 150 artifacts made from various wood species such as Chengal, Angsana, Kemuning and Kenaung. Its scope spanned intricate architecture and boat-building, such as the magnificent carved head and tail of the 'Burung Gagak Sura', a vehicle thought to have been used to transport royalty in the 19th century in Pattani and Kelantan. Also on display were a huge 'pintu gerbang' or traditional gateway, a selection of kris and their hilts as well as a 'serambi' or the traditional verandah that serves as an entrance to the Malay home. There were also unique and well-crafted kitchen utensils as well as artefacts taken from mosques and old palaces.
'Spirit of Wood' has provided much to demonstrate the highly aesthetic and functional aspects of Malay woodcarving and has restored the Malay woodcarving to its original status as an essential art form.